Difficult deals should make Angels better in end
Parting with talented Trumbo, Bourjos necessary to improve pitching staff
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In 2011, good buddies Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos brought thunder and lightning to the Angels on a consistent basis. They looked like budding, charismatic stars on the rise along with manchild Mike Trout, whose phenomenal skill set was soon to be recognized from coast to coast.
Trumbo launched balls that got tiny quickly, disappearing somewhere over the rainbow. He also played a solid first base. Bourjos, as fast as anyone in baseball, made breathtaking plays in center field while driving the ball hard enough to rank third on the club in OPS (on-base plus slugging). Trout was 19, just getting his bearings while playing 40 games, quietly hanging around his two older teammates to absorb the inner workings of the game.
The once-promising trio has been whittled to one, Trout standing alone in center. Bourjos was dispatched to St. Louis in the David Freese deal, and Trumbo on Tuesday was sent to Arizona in a three-way swap also involving the White Sox. It brought Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, a pair of affordable young lefties with upside, to Anaheim.
The best-laid plans sometimes get waylaid.
Four seasons removed from the postseason, with a top-heavy payroll, the Angels have sacrificed two thrilling talents for needs. Rolling the dice, you never know how these things will play out.
"Mark was good for 30 [homers] and was a great teammate," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "That's not a phone conversation I was looking forward to. Mark's a smart guy. He said, 'Looking at it, I can see why. You don't have to tell me why.'"
Certainly, the Angels and their fans can feel better about their rotation today than they did as the Winter Meetings convened on Monday. The swap delivers the prospect of desperately needed support behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards.
"You always hate to give up a young pitcher like Tyler," D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said. "But guys who can hit with power like Trumbo are hard to find."
Skaggs, a rangy kid from Santa Monica, Calif., with a roundhouse curveball and fastball in the 88-92 mph range, was part of the Angels' 2009 First-Year Player Draft along with Trout and Richards. Skaggs went to Arizona in the 2010 Dan Haren midseason deal and now returns home with a chance to forge a productive career in front of his family and friends.
From the White Sox comes Santiago, a versatile arm capable of serving any number of roles but penciled into the rotation for now. He'll be 26 next week, and he was solid in 23 starts and 34 appearances in 2013. His 4-9 record is less reflective of how he pitched than his 3.56 ERA, not bad at all for a guy pitching half the time in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field.
Skaggs, 22, had seven starts for the D-backs, going 2-3 with a 5.12 ERA. He yielded only 38 hits in 38 2/3 innings, but seven of those carried over the walls. His 15 walks seemed to show a level of discomfort not uncommon among young pitchers making the big jump.
Like Santiago, Skaggs was pitching in a home park favored by hitters -- something that should play nicely in Trumbo's powerful wheelhouse. Drives he launched at Angel Stadium that got knocked down by the marine layer ought to carry into the Chase Field swimming pool the celebrative Dodgers found so inviting.
If they pitch anywhere close to their potential, Santiago and Skaggs can give the Angels back-end rotation depth they did not have in 2013. This put inordinate strain on a bullpen that ranked 26th among the 30 in the Majors in ERA. The starters weren't much better, coming in at No. 22.
Something had to be done with this staff. If it meant unloading a popular local kid who grew up about 10 minutes away from Angel Stadium in Villa Park and loved everything about playing for the Angels, it was a decision the front office decided it had to make.
Trumbo, a high school phenom who thought he would be a pitcher, made consistent improvement throughout his Minor League career, with Bourjos usually at his side.
Reaching the big stage in 2011, Trumbo hit 29 homers with 87 RBIs and batted .254 despite playing the last month with a foot injury that would require surgery. Trumbo ran second in the American League Rookie of the Year race to Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson.
Trumbo clubbed 32 homers with 95 RBIs while batting .268 in 2012. He made the AL All-Star team and put on a memorable show in the Home Run Derby in Kansas City.
While his power numbers continued to climb (34 homers, 100 RBIs), Trumbo's average fell to .234 in 2013, his strikeouts escalating to 184.
"Strikeouts and power go together," Towers said.
In his clubhouse, Trumbo was viewed as an emerging leader, confident and not afraid to speak his mind. Intelligent and inquisitive, he studies the game intensely. The downside is that he is prone to being too hard on himself.
With the great Paul Goldschmidt encamped at first, Trumbo will play left field in Arizona. He transformed himself from a substandard first baseman into a good one, and Towers thinks that attitude should bode well for improvement in left.
"We're aware of his strong work ethic," Towers said.
Critics can sniff at his OBP and strikeout numbers, but Trumbo brings authority to a lineup.
Trumbo and Bourjos are as close as brothers. They're entering a new world as rivals in the National League, Bourjos prepared to chase down his old buddy's drives -- and Trumbo planning to launch them out of reach.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.